EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The journey toward selecting the next Laker has entered its final week, and the high-profile predraft workouts are finished.
If someone has proved to be a must-have guy, the Lakers are keeping that quiet.
And if no one has proved to be a must-have guy, presuming the Boston Celtics at No. 6 especially won’t let injured Joel Embiid drop to the Lakers at No. 7, then the Lakers will sit back to see who does drop to them or perhaps move down a few slots if the right trade opportunity comes along.
Even though the Lakers had Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton in for second workouts Friday, Julius Randle’s solo workout Tuesday still lingers in minds as extremely impressive.
Aside from Randle’s evident production on the court during Kentucky’s maximum-length NCAA season, Randle showed more face-up skills and distance shooting to the Lakers. On the workouts alone, even though Gordon offered a much stronger impression Friday than he did two weeks earlier, Randle has the edge over fellow power forwards Noah Vonleh and Gordon.
The Lakers have now had firsthand looks in their gym at a variety of options who could be there at No. 7: forwards Vonleh, Randle, Gordon and Doug McDermott and guards Smart, Payton, Nik Stauskas, Zach LaVine, Gary Harris, Tyler Ennis, James Young and P.J. Hairston.
The Lakers will take another look at UCLA uber-athlete LaVine on Saturday and work out Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier on Sunday. Both will be group gatherings closed to the media but won’t be the star-studded productions the Lakers had on previous days.
The workouts of the guys expected to go in the top seven are over. The final deliberations are beginning.
There is apparent value at No. 7 in Smart, who was projected No. 2 in the draft a year ago before he returned to Oklahoma State, as many teams still have yet to conclude Dante Exum is a better point guard prospect.
Smart would seem to be a duplication of Kobe Bryant in some senses with how much Smart dominates the ball on the perimeter. But aside from planning to play only two more years, Bryant doesn’t want to handle the ball anymore, and he’s going to play in the post a lot more than most big men in the NBA.
Smart’s aggressive, rim-attacking style would actually be a nice complement to Bryant, and it’d be intriguing to see how their respective fires go together. Smart, whose jumper did not look very good Friday, said “my competitive level” is his top quality.
Smart also offers a weapon the Lakers have pretty much never had in all of Bryant’s years: a game-changer with on-ball defense. (Smart had six steals in his only NCAA tournament game this year—plus 23 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.)
Smart is a powerhouse: He’s 227 pounds, outweighing the taller Payton by a whopping 42 pounds—and even outweighing Gordon by seven pounds.
But Gordon is 6’9” to Smart’s 6’3”, and it’s a basketball reality that quality size is harder to find. With Embiid’s right foot fracture, the Philadelphia 76ers arranged for Smart to rush out of his second Lakers workout to catch a flight across the country and be checked out Saturday by the Sixers, who pick at No. 3 (and No. 10). Smart has already worked out twice for Orlando, which is at No. 4.
Gordon said he has also heard the Sixers might now want to see him in light of Embiid probably dropping out of the expected top three.
“Makes it a lot less predictable,” Gordon said Friday about Embiid’s injury.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak sought out Gordon for a private word after his strong workout Friday, and Gordon was convinced he had given the Lakers a lot to consider.
Gordon said he has flat-out “gotten better” since his June 4 workout on the Lakers’ court, when he was determined to defend the high-scoring McDermott but didn’t show the kind of aggressiveness he did Friday.
What the Lakers are contemplating is whether Gordon—right now—is an NBA defender of the highest caliber, which would make him an awfully valuable commodity given his size and athleticism and his belief his “motor” is his greatest attribute. Gordon said he has tweaked his free-throw stroke and jump shot and is more confident with both now.
“I have all the tools,” he said. “It’s just about sharpening the tools.”
Kevin Ding covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.